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Marbury v. Madison

Citation. 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)
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Citation. 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)

Brief Fact Summary.

Secretary of state James Madison failed to deliver commissions to individuals appointed to justice of the peace positions by the previous administration.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review.


Before leaving office, President Adams signed commissions to appoint several individuals as justices of the peace, after receiving the advice and consent of the senate. James Madison, secretary of state of the new presidential administration, failed to deliver the commissions to these individuals. One of these individuals was William Marbury, who initiated proceedings to obtain a mandamus ordering Madison to deliver his commission.


  1. Did Marbury have a right to his commission as a justice of the peace?
  2. If Marbury had a right, and that right was violated, does the law provide a remedy?
  3. If there is a legal remedy available, is that remedy a mandamus issued by the Supreme Court?


  1. Yes, Marbury had a right to his commission as a justice of the peace.
  2. Yes, the law does provide a remedy for a violation of this right.
  3. No, a mandamus issued by the Supreme Court is not an available remedy.


  1. An act of Congress provided for presidential appointment of justices of peace. In light of this, the Supreme Court held that whether Marbury had a right to commission depended on whether he had been appointed. The Supreme Court found that Marbury had been appointed, because the President signed his commission, acting upon the advice and consent of the Senate, and that decision is the only evidence required.
  2. The Supreme Court held that, where a specific duty is assigned by law, and individual rights depend upon the performance of that duty, an injured individual has a right to seek a remedy in the law. Marbury’s right was vested when the President signed his commission.
  3. The Supreme Court held that whether a mandamus should be issued by the Court depended on the nature of the writ of mandamus and the power of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that a mandamus is a proper remedy where the officer to whom it will be directed is one to whom such a writ can be directed, and where the person applying for it is without any other legal remedy. The Court found that these requirements were satisfied here. However, the Supreme Court held that it does not have the authority to issue the mandamus. The Judiciary Act gave the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus to public officers. However, the Supreme Court found that this contradicted the Constitution, which gave the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in cases affecting ambassadors, other public individuals, and state parties, and appellate jurisdiction over certain other cases. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the grant of original jurisdiction was not restrictive, and that the legislature could expand this jurisdiction. The Supreme Court also held that the case here was not an appellate case. The Supreme Court then established the principle of judicial review, holding that it is the Supreme Court’s duty to decide on the operation of conflicting laws in cases before the Court, and that when a law contradicts the Constitution, the Court can find the law unconstitutional. According to the Supreme Court, judicial review is necessary to its constitutional duty of reviewing cases that arise under the Constitution.

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